By DeWayne Wickham
It’s time for a change, Michael Steele — time for you to find a new political home.
Born into a family of Maryland Democrats, you became a Republican when the most revered members of the state’s GOP were Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin and Charles “Mac” Mathias.
McKeldin was the moderate Republican who gave the nominating speech for Dwight Eisenhower at the party’s 1952 convention, and who later broke with the GOP to back Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Gold-water in the 1964 presidential campaign. A two-term governor, McKeldin was twice elected mayor of Baltimore. And unlike many other Republicans — then and now — he won widespread support from black voters.
Mathias, a liberal Republican who helped draft the 1964 Civil Rights Act, served in the Senate for 18 years before retiring in 1987. For his willingness to put principle above party, he was called the “conscience of the Senate” by Democratic leader Mike Mansfield.
Your political roots are in the GOP of McKeldin and Mathias, not the Republican Party that is now commanded by right-wingers such as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Ohio Rep. John Boehner.
There is no room for you in today’s GOP. For all the talk of a “big tent,” the Republican Party is a neoconservative pup tent where those with differing views are forced to kowtow to these ultra-right-wingers. Their political absolutism chased Florida Gov. Charlie Crist from the GOP and has reduced Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to backbenchers. And more than once, it has forced you to retract something you said — when it seemed you spoke from the heart, not the party’s playbook.
It’s time to “man up,” Michael Steele, time to put your principles ahead of your job as GOP chairman, time to move into another political space — one that will let you be you. It’s time for you to become a Democrat.
As it is now, you’re widely thought to be a gaffe-prone embarrassment to the GOP. You called Rush Limbaugh an incendiary “entertainer,” then you apologized after he turned his media-megaphone against you. You told GQ that abortion is “an individual choice,” and then backpedaled when the anti-abortionists squealed in protest. And as quickly as you said at a Connecticut GOP fundraiser that the Afghanistan war is a conflict of President Obama’s choosing and is unwinnable, you retreated when GOP hawks demanded your resignation.
While many of your views would not prevail in the Democratic Party, you wouldn’t have to eat your words. You could become a member of the party’s conservative “Blue Dog” faction and influence the Obama administration’s policies and congressional legislation.
Sure, the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress is decidedly liberal. But the party has space within its ranks for moderates such as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and conservatives such as Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler. They aren’t forced to genuflect to an ideological litmus test. In the GOP, you’re treated like a malfunctioning dupe of the party’s claim of diversity. In the Democratic Party, you’d be yet another example of the inclusiveness it admittedly struggles with but hasn’t abandoned.
Breaking away from the Republican Party would be a tough move, but clinging to the belief that you can remain in the GOP and be your own man, ultimately, will cause you greater trauma.